Beach Clean and around the islands

It was another beautiful day on St Kilda, we have been so lucky with the weather! Today was the Litter Pick on the beach with Ciaran the seabird ranger. There is a method all lined up for the work we had to do. All the litter collected is sorted, catalogued and weighed. The Marine Conservation Society use the St Kilda litter pick as a base line for other litter picks in the UK, as we are considered one of the beaches least likely to have litter. All wood is logged too.

 

 

The highlight of the day though, was the arrival of Kilda Cruises boat with David and Malcolm. It was planned for a trip around the St Kilda archipelago, not something that happens when you visit the island on a day boat. Craig and Ciaran joined us for the trip and it was amazing to see the island, it’s caves and cliffs from a different perspective! We saw sheep on Soay, and the seabirds nesting on the cliffs. 

 

 

Tonight we were told that the island was on Amber alert for a water shortage, and no rain is expected for a week. We put in place water rations on shower times, and all of us are mindful to use less water where possible. With the construction work being carried out on the island, there is a lot of additional people on the island to usual.

 

We had another fabulous meal from Hammie and after dinner, we headed down to the school room and the Manse to prepare for tomorrow’s visiting cruise ship which is bringing 300 passengers to the island. We then went for a drink at the Puff Inn.

 

Farewells and Welcomes

Tuesday – half way through our work party and we found ourselves waving off Ellie and the rest of the Puffin counters on Kilda Cruises boat Hirta, as they travel back to Harris. We also said farewell to our Ranger John, who is off to the Arctic for the next four weeks. We welcomed Pete on to the island, who will be looking after us along with Craig and Ciaran for the remainder of our stay.

Above pictured, from left to right, Craig – NTS Archaeologist, John – Ranger and Ciaran – Seabird Ranger

Over the last two days we have been very lucky with some beautiful sunny weather. We have managed to get on with lots of our outside tasks including cleit turf roof repairs, painting around the Factors House and the Manse, door repairs, painting the roof of houses One and Two, along with running the St Kilda Club Shop in the Manse.

We found time for walks in the evening, including up to the Gap and the top of Conachair to enjoy the fabulous views over to Boreray and the rest of the island.

 On Monday we had some excitement when unfortunately a man from one of the day boats broke his leg at the top of The Gap. The Coast Guard had to come and ‘medivac’ him from the top of The Gap to Stornaway. Usually the Coast Guard comes out about twice a year – we have seen them twice since we have been here! 

Royal Wedding Celebration on St Kilda

Hammie and I were up before the rest of the work party on Saturday to decorate House Number One for the Royal Wedding. We may have got a bit carried away with the Harry and Meghan bunting…

 

The work party embraced the spirit of the occasion, and Hammie organised American pancakes for breakfast. As the weather wasn’t the best we worked in the morning, doing general maintenance, tidying the workshop and rubbing down window shutters.

 

Afternoon entertainment came from Ellie working with the National Trust of Scotland, who had been camping on Dun counting the puffins. She gave a fascinating talk about tracking puffins and seabirds and the research being carried out to find out the causes of any decline and what can be done to improve the situation.

 

We had invited John, Ciaran and Craig as guests to our Royal Wedding Party. We started the evening with toasting our own version of the royal couple! We then enjoyed poached salmon for our main, with a fabulous pavlova topped with passion fruit, grapes, kiwi and gold dusted chocolate truffles for dessert! A meal fit for the queen!

Were we the most westerly Royal Wedding party in the United Kingdom?

 

 

Clearing watercourses in the sunshine

It’s hard to believe we have been on the island less than 24 hours – the sun is still shining! We started Thursday morning with a tour of Village Bay with Craig, the NTS archaeologist then straight on to clearing watercourses starting down by the Featherstore and working our way up to just past House Seven by the end of the day.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the finished result of your work, and a thumbs up all round from the work party after unblocking a watercourse which had been causing the path to flood!

 While the majority of the work party worked on watercourses, Phil, our newly appointed / fell into the role of handyman is fixing door handles, locks, taps and generally working out what lives where.  Diane, Helen and Lucy learnt how to run the St Kilda Club Shop with the help of John, ready to greet and serve the day boat passengers.

 

After a delicious dinner, we headed down to the Puff Inn for quiz night, with Bee and Lucy on the winning team at the end of the evening.

 

Friday morning started off damp and misty. The work party split into two groups, with Bruce, Frances and Malcolm joining Craig to learn how to turf a cleit on the edge of the village area. Wet weather plans were put into action for the rest of the group, with them rubbing down paintwork on the Factors House and the Manse ready for painting.

Turfing went well, and Cleit 111 soon looked as good as the original photographs! 

All this fresh air and work makes for a very tired work party and we’re all ready for bed by 10.30!

We made it! Work Party One 2018

We awoke to beautiful sunshine in Leverburgh. We were quickly up, out and loaded then off in the Kilda Cruises boat, Hirta with David and Malcolm by 7.30am.

 

Three hours later we arrived at Village Bay, and a busy morning was had, with Orca, Kilda Cruises other boat right behind us – a cruise ship sitting waiting to bring passengers ashore and the landing craft unloading.

 

Craig, the St Kilda archaeologist with the National Trust of Scotland (NTS), and John the NTS ranger were on the pier to greet us, along with the welcome sight of a JCB from QinetiQ to help transport our luggage and all the food as close to the houses as possible. 

 

 A busy couple of hours ensued with the priority to get all the food up to House One, using wheelbarrows and human power! Somehow with all the unloading, sorting through and organising the food Hammie, our fabulous cook for the next two weeks conjured up delicious soup, homemade cheese scones and fruit cake for lunch.

 

As the work party settled in to their new home for the next two weeks, we organised kitchen rota’s and looked at the work to do over the coming fortnight.

 

Late afternoon, we walked out as a group to Ruaival to the Mistress Stone with cameras and binoculars at the ready for lambs, seabirds and other wildlife.

 

We finished the day off with a fabulous meal from Hammie, and a talk from Craig, John and the seabird ranger, Ciaran.

 

It’s hard to believe that we have only been on the island 12 hours, so much has happened and it’s only just begun! Work starts tomorrow…

 

The day before St Kilda

 

As the mist and rain fell on Leverburgh on Tuesday morning we wondered if the moment we had all been waiting for would be delayed…

By 3pm in the afternoon the mist had cleared and the weather conditions were looking exceptionally good as eight of the work party gathered in the Am Bothan Bunkhouse ready for the Wednesday morning departure to St Kilda for the first Work Party of 2018.

The weather just got better and better as the evening went on, and by 7.30 we were looking at a 7am start to help load the food and bags onto the “Hirta” in the morning.

With all the work party now in Leverburgh, we gathered at The Anchorage for our evening meal, risk assessment talk and for the initial bonding of the work party. Phil won the golden star (and bag of sweets) for fully reading all of the risk assessment forms in advance!

 

Next update will be from St Kilda!

St Kilda – The Silent Islands

St Kilda in a new light: a visual poem to the islands at the edge of the world Photographer Alex Boyd captures the lesser known side of the enigmatic islands of St Kilda in a new photography
book.
Using a ‘battered medium format camera’ that once belonged to landscape photographer Fay Godwin, Alex balances the well documented beauty of the islands with a new, modern perspective on the military presence on the island that is lacking in exposure.
The stunningly haunting images of the military roads, installations and the remains of conflict show the complex relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the National Trust to help preserve this UNESCO World Heritage site.
‘A visual poem rather than a guide’, St Kilda: The Silent Islands offers an insight into the communities living and working on St Kilda today.
Special Offer

As a thank you to those who have supported my work, I’d like to offer a discount on the purchase of the book and print bundle. Bought separately the book and print would cost £60, however as a limited offer they are available to pre-order on my website for £40.

For a limited time however you can take advantage of a £5 off voucher which will be available until the book launches at the end of April, making the book + print offer only £35 + postage.

The print ‘Borerary from Hirta’ is limited to an edition of 100, with an image size of 6×6 inches, signed, and presented on Hahnemühle archival paper. Use the discount code BORERAY10 in the checkout for this special deal.

The link for the book:
The print deal:

Diary of a Work Party Leader

My first trip to St Kilda was in 2002 as a work party member of work party two, back then to get to St Kilda involved a 14 hour boat trip from Oban, certainly a character building experience, and what better way to team build!

This year I return to St Kilda as work party leader for work party one, a huge honour, and an amazing opportunity to return to Hirta to spend time again on the islands.

Things have changed in the last 16 years, and the journey out is now from Harris with Kilda Cruises, a mere 3 hours, I hope my work party appreciate how easy they will have it!

Earlier in March, I was given the details of my cook for the trip, Hammie and the rest of the work party, who come with a wealth of experience between them, a love for hill walking, seabirds and most importantly St Kilda.

Discussions about midges, walking equipment and how everyone will be making their way to Leverburgh are well under way.

Hammie and I met last Friday in Edinburgh, along with work party two’s leader, Peter, for a meeting with Susan and Angela from the National Trust of Scotland and the work party leaders and cooks from last years work parties, to discuss logistics, health and safety and any hints and tips from last year, and learn what work we will be doing this year.

Being a dual world heritage site comes with its fair share of rules, and all work to be carried out has to be submitted for approval before we arrive, and part of my role as work party leader will be document and photograph all the work we carry out during our two weeks there.

Now with only six weeks to go, it won’t be long until we are all in the bunkhouse in Leverburgh waiting to leave for St Kilda.

St Kilda Mailboats – Jim Stuart – From the St Kilda Mail Archives 1978

Early in 1877 an Austrian ship, the “Peti Dubrivacki”, was wrecked off St Kilda. The St Kildans were already short of food but looked after the marooned crew. By early February food supplies were dangerously low and starvation threatened and in desperate situation the first St Kilda mailboat was launched on 5th February 1877. A message asked for help was addressed to the Austrian Consul in Glasgow, attached to a lifebelt from the “Peti Dubrivacki” and thrown into the sea. It was found nine days later in Birsay, Orkney. The message was relayed to Glasgow via the Lloyd’s agent at Stromness and HMS Jackal was sent to St Kilda with food supplies and to rescue the Austrians.

From this beginning a ‘standard’ mailboat was developed. The letter was placed in a bottle or tin with instructions to the finder to post it; a penny for the stamp was also included. The container was sealed, waterproofed with grease and placed in a cavity which had been hollowed out of a block of wood shaped like a boat. PLEASE OPEN was burnt with a hot wire of a wooden hatch, which was then battened down. A small red flag was attached to the hull and the finished mailboat was then tied to an inflated sheep’s bladder.

Mailboats were launched when the wind was in the north-west and about two-thirds were eventually found, mostly on the shores of Harris or Lewis but also in Orkney and Shetland and sometimes even in Norway. They were used in emergencies right up to the evacuation of St Kilda in 1930.

The work parties on St Kilda, release their mailboats as they leave St Kilda, how far has yours gone, and how long did it take to get found? In 1978 the longest period between launch and finding was 15 and a half months, this month, a work party in 2005, have just received the postcards from their mailboat, found in 2017! 12 years later! More details on this next month!

Opening Time – George Wood – From the St Kilda Mail Archives 1977

 

It was on a very dark night in late April of last year (1976) that I travelled on the army L.T.C. from Loch Carnan to Hirta. On my approach Dun and Conachair were silhouetted against the dark sky and then on entering Village Bay I saw the long row of lights stretching from the jetty to the beach landing strip, like beacons, guiding our way as we slowly came inshore.

With the assistance of the army and the Department of the Environment I was soon opening up the Trust houses, putting new panes of glass in the windows broken with the winter storms, and bringing out of store beds and mattresses for the members of the first work party due to arrive in three weeks time. The houses were damp and cold but fresh air worked wonders in a little time. The rusty cooker in No. 1 almost sparkled again with applications of Brillo.

Village Street was like the finest lawn. April had been a good month and only the Soay sheep had walked along it clipping the grass very closely, and with no passage of humans there were not yet the sodden tracks or ruts that were to come again in the next month or so.

Early in May Dr Mike Harris and Stewart Murray were engaged on a Puffin Study and swinging across the Breaches Buoy with them I enjoyed two wonderful days on Dun. These days were perfect, warm and dry and the luxuriant vegetation we know on Dun, had hardly come to life and it was an easy scramble for me to traverse from end to end. Approaching the fort and beyond you get very close to the colonies of razorbills, guillemots and shags, while puffins and fulmars whirr or glide over your head. It is a truly wonderful bird island.

At the end of April a black-tailed godwit was feeding in the meadow at Lady Grange’s house. The months of May and June are wonderful times for studying bird life, first the nesting and the hatching of chicks. Besides all the familiar seabirds, redwing and collared dove were often around the Factor’s house. In early May I counted over 100 golden plover on the slopes of Ruaival and a similar number of eider in Village Bay. It was a common sight in the early morning to see the male eider and his mate walking towards An Lag looking for a home amongst the boulders. A golden eagle flew around Oiseval for several days and a female merlin was seen. I began to recognise the Soay ewes and rams which took us the same territory every morning and left it for higher ground in the evening.

In the two months or so that I was on Hirta, the weather was not at its best, but when one gets a good day, the others are forgotten. There were a lot of south east gales which were on shore to Hirta.

It was great to meet Joe Keppie with the first work party about this time, some of whom were glad to be on terra firma again. By this time I had set up shop in the schoolroom and arranged some artifacts in house no. 4. It may be of interest to mention that the shop had a turnover of approximately £500 and perhaps the creation of a small Folk Museum could be a project for a future work party.

My days on Hirta were very pleasant ones and I enjoyed the company and hospitality of the work parties. I have a lot of contact with the army personnel and contractors men often through the shop – I was always welcome at the Puff Inn an in the Messes and I cannot speak too highly of the willing co-operation of the C.O. and other ranks in my work and in helping in every way possible for the comfort and enjoyment of my stay.

George Wood, Warden April – June 1976